If Virginia Woolf was writing today, she could well have titled her famous essay A Shed of One’s Own, rather than A Room of One’s Own. With property prices the way they are, the chance of having the luxury of an entire room to yourself are pretty slender – at least until those human fledglings fly the nest and you can cartwheel naked round the kitchen to The Rolling Stones to your heart’s content. But for most women, it’s still hugely important to have a place to go at home – and increasingly, that’ll mean at the end of the garden – where we can get away from it all for some ‘alone time’.
This is hard when you’ve children careering around, a husband who can’t so much as scramble an egg or work a washing machine, elderly and befuddled parents – or, in my case, when you have people who come to work in your house every day. So, going beyond ‘me-time’, I am a great believer in carving out some ‘me-space’. It might be a nook off the kitchen. A corner of a bedroom. A desk or a chair on a landing. Or – the dream – a shed.
Notwithstanding a blessedly happy marriage, my shed – AND IT IS MY SHED AND NOBODY ELSE’S – is my favourite place on the planet. Somewhere I can go to be alone, to read, to write with a proper fountain pen – or just stare at the horizon, since it’s deliberately positioned near the top of my steep garden in our seaside home to get a great view of the Channel.
Actually, I have entire ‘staycations’ in my shed. I built it because I like to holiday at home, at some point in July and August – with our (shingle) beach five minutes’ away, why would I travel half-way across the world to a different and much more crowded beach? But my house makes Charing Cross station seem calm. Pre-shed, I’d be in the house ‘on statycation’, and Amy or Lily (Beauty Bible) would invariably start asking me questions. Understandable, yes – but invariably, it had me thinking about work when I was supposed to be switching off.
In my case, a shed – or ‘she-ed’, as some people put it – seemed the perfect antidote to the constant comings-and-goings and the ringing of the doorbell. And so it’s proved. As yet, so far as I know, nobody’s conducting a survey into the impact of sheds on women’s wellbeing, but I’ve a hunch the results would mirror those of the Centre for Men’s Health at Leeds Metropolitan University that owning a shed could actually prolong your life.
Indeed, according to a survey unveiled to coincide with the Cuprinol Shed of the Year competition (launched in conjunction with the aspirational shed fan site, the gloriously-named Cabin Porn), more than a quarter of shed owners are now using the space to boost wellbeing through meditation, 20% are practicing yoga, and an impressive 71 percent look to their sheds as somewhere to get away from everyday stresses.
Virginia Woolf maintained in that extended essay that women needed a room of their own in which to write. In my case, it’s a shed of my own to do everything BUT. ‘Oh, do you work up here?’, everyone asks. Well, no, I don’t. And that – sorry, Virginia – is the point, for me. Of course, some people do have ‘work sheds’ – but a work shed would be defeating the object, in my case. We all need somewhere away from laptops and Apple Macs, to do just what we please. Maybe flicking through magazines. (People do still do that, you know, despite everything the media tells us about ‘print being dead’.) Knitting, perhaps. Sipping red wine, or hot tea. Or just staring into space, if that’s what you need to do, to slow the pace of daily life.
Me? Mostly, I catch up on reading, and write thank-you letters and notes to people for nice things they’ve done for me, or gifts received, or to pat someone on the back for an achievement. That ‘gratitude hour’ is probably my favourite hour of the week. I order plants and seeds and replan the garden, from my vantage point over the herbaceous border. (Although I confess that I do also spend a bit of time looking at an app on my phone that tells me the names of the cargo ships on the horizon, and where they’re going to and from. Sad and rather trainspotter-y, but true.)
My shed came in fairly inexpensive kit form. (NB you do of course have to check out any planning restrictions/listed building restrictions beforehand before just knocking one up – though in most cases, a small shed will encounter no problems.) I furnished it satisfyingly cheaply: my grandparents’ old mid-Century modern chairs, given a lick of paint, a bookcase I bought for a tenner, a table that had been rusting quietly in the corner of the garden, and some non-precious paintings up on the wall, since it’s not 100% damp-proof in winter. I ran up some cushions from vintage Sanderson prints, put in a scented plant or two (and a smelly candle) – and hey, presto: heaven on earth. No electricity (faux fur rugs and a Thermos required in winter, for sure) – because I didn’t want the temptation of taking a laptop up there. And frankly if I did have a space-warmer and a lamp up there, I might never leave. (I heartily recommend Gill Heriz’s book A Woman’s Shed, meanwhile, with its interviews with real-life female shed-ists, its decorative inspiration fuel for a gazillion shed fantasies.)
According to relationship experts (including author Tina B. Tessina, author of Lovestyles: How to Celebrate our Differences), craving alone time like this is perfectly natural – and very restorative. As she puts it: ‘When we’re together for too long, the boundaries of self tend to get fuzzy, and we need to be alone to get back to who we are,’ she says.
So I can’t encourage you too strongly to do whatever you can to carve out some some ‘me-space’. A quiet corner to call your own – even a cupboard under the stairs is better than nothing. But take it from me: the ultimate sanity-saver is a little wooden building tucked away from your house or flat. So you can keep your designer clothes, your shiny cars, your posh holidays. Because there’s nothing that makes me happier than that shed of my own. And with its life-prolonging potential, I intend still to be hauling myself up there when I’m 90.